If you’re thinking about writing for teen or tween audiences, it’s important to know all the ways that Middle Grade books and Young Adult books differ. At Writer’s Relief, we know these two genres have evolved rapidly in the past decade, as have the nuanced distinctions between them. Here are the key differences between Middle Grade and YA Books, along with some tips for writing for young readers of any age.
12 Important Differences Between Middle Grade and YA Books
Writing Middle Grade Literature
Age of the characters: Characters in middle grade stories are generally 8-12 years old. In upper middle grade books, which is a bit more complex and intended for a slightly older audience, the characters can be a little older.
Length of the story: A middle grade novel is typically between 30,000 and 50,000 words. The books can be a bit shorter if they’re for a very young audience, or a bit longer if they’re for a slightly older audience. Books can also be a bit longer if they’re in the fantasy genre.
Voice of the characters: Children’s book writers often find the middle grade voice the most difficult to get right. While language needs to be clear and simple, these books cannot be condescending or give the air of being “watered down.”
Focus: Middle grade characters and readers are often smarter and more astute than adults give them credit for, so stories for a middle grade audience can be darker, deeper, and scarier than you might expect. Middle grade narrators should give their readers a good sense of interiority—closeness to the character, mentally and emotionally—but may not have the world around them totally figured out yet. Middle grade characters may also be more dependent on adults, so parents and teachers might be more involved in their stories. These books tend to end more cleanly and hopefully.
What the books can’t have: A middle grade novel should have a “PG” rating. Romance can be present but is typically limited to a youthful crush, perhaps a first kiss—generally very innocent. And, while these books can deal with more serious topics, any violence shouldn’t be graphic, and there usually isn’t a lot of swearing.
How you reach middle grade readers: Keep in mind that middle grade readers—even the older ones—may not yet be allowed to choose their own reading material. In order to reach them, your book should also appeal to parents, teachers, or librarians.
Writing Young Adult (YA) Literature
Age of the characters: Characters in young adult books range from thirteen years old to about eighteen, sometimes even branching into the characters’ first year in college. This is a big age range, so YA books have many different voices.
Length of the story: Young adult books usually fall somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 words—although for older YA, especially fantasy, the word count can approach 100,000. Keep in mind that a much longer book will be tougher to sell as a first-time author.
Voice of the characters: As these readers will be older than middle grade readers, syntax can be more complex and varied in YA books. They’re also able to comprehend complex feelings, so a YA narrative may delve deeper into the characters’ heads. Still, writing that feels too dense or stuffy isn’t likely to hold the attention of a young adult audience.
Focus: Teenage characters are often more independent, focused on finding their identity, and learning how they relate to the world around them—and young adult books often chronicle the characters’ coming of age. They’re also often exploring romance, sexuality, and their goals for the future. YA books allow the reader to be very close to the narrator, both psychologically and emotionally. As the plots can be denser and grittier, these novels’ endings tend to be much more bittersweet.
What the books can’t have: Although YA books can be much more explicit in terms of romance and violence, they do not involve outright erotica, and gratuitous violence usually isn’t well received.
How you reach YA readers: You won’t have to go through “gatekeepers” to get to a young adult audience—so make sure your book appeals to your reader audience!
Tips For Authors Writing For Teens And Tweens
Don’t talk down to your readers. And any moral in your story should be well cloaked—young readers want to arrive at lessons on their own, rather than feeling beat over the head with them!
Speak their language. Make sure you’re using the language and technology that would be relevant to a middle grade or young adult audience. You may want to take a look at Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner to determine if you’re using the right vocabulary and language for your readers.
Teens and tweens tend to “read up.” Your audience is likely reading about characters who are the same age as or slightly older than they are, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when crafting your story.
Read books for your intended audience. The right voice for children’s books—of any age range—can take a lot of time and practice to cultivate. Immerse yourself in that world by learning which books are popular with readers in your target age range; then read as many of those books as you can!
Know The Differences Between Middle Grade And YA Before You Start Writing
Children’s literary agents and editors are experts in the nuanced differences between middle grade and young adult books, and they won’t look twice at a book if the author is trying to sell it in the wrong age category. To become familiar with the audience you want to reach, here’s a reading list of great, diverse middle grade and YA books from the Writer’s Relief staff:
Question: What teen or tween books stand out to you?